A critical part of the home buying process is working with a competent and trustworthy realtor. A good real estate agent can help you locate the perfect home at the perfect price. Be sure to ask the following basic questions to any prospective real estate agents you consider hiring before you start shopping for a home.
How long have you been a licensed agent?
Check that the realtor currently has a license in good standing and ask him about his professional experience. Look for an agent who has been in the business for at least five years. If he or she lacks at least five years of experience, be sure that he or she has access to competent mentors and solid training. Also ask about the realtor’s work schedule and how he or she prefers to be contacted. The ideal agent is a full-time realtor who is regularly available by cell phone, email, and in person.
How many homes did you sell last year?
Ask a prospective agent about his or her recent work helping people in your area buy and sell homes. Try to get contact information for prior customers who can serve as references. If you can find out the addresses of the properties in which the agent was involved in the sale, you can look up the value of those homes.
What is your typical list-price-to-sales-price ratio?
Knowing the agent’s average ratio is extremely meaningful. A good buyer’s agent should be capable of negotiating a sales price that is lower than the list price set by buyers. Bear in mind though, that a competent listing agent should be able to negotiate sales prices that are close to the list prices. Buyers can feel confident that they have a good buyer’s agent if his or her ratio is below 99%.
How many buyers and sellers are you working with at this time?
Try to find a realtor that works with a number of clients at a time, but not such a large number that he or she will not have enough time for you. Ask if the real estate agent will be representing both the borrower and the seller in your transaction. If the agent will only be representing you, ask whether he or she expects you or the seller to pay the commission.
How do you plan to meet my needs?
As an informed buyer, you should know:
How the realtor will search for the new home
How many homes you will likely see before finding a home you want to buy
Whether or not you will be competing against other buyers
How the realtor handles multiple offers
Whether the realtor presents offers independently
Could I see a list of references?
Everyone should have references-even new agents who have worked for previous employers. Ask to see those references and inquire as to whether any of the individuals providing them are related to the realtor. Also be sure to ask if you can call the references with additional questions.
Why are you better than your competition?
Any good agent will be prepared to provide you with reasons why he or she is best suited for the job. While every consumer has different standards, most claim to be interested in agents who are:
Honest and reliable
Easily accessible by phone or e-mail
Capable of maintaining a good sense of humor under difficult circumstances
Can I review documents that I will be asked to sign beforehand?
A good realtor allows his or her customers to preview forms before they are required to sign them. Buyers should ask for the following documents up front:
Buyer’s broker agreement (is it exclusive or non-exclusive?)
How can you help me find other professionals?
Ask the real estate agent who she works with and why she chooses these professionals. A good realtor should be able to provide you with a list of referring vendors including mortgage brokers, home inspectors, and title companies. If you see the term ‘affiliated,’ request an explanation'it could mean that the agent and her broker are receiving compensation from one or all of the same vendors, and you might be paying a premium cost for this service.
How do you set your fees and commission structures?
Most agents earn only what they collect on commissions from their sales. A homeowner pays a real estate commission and a closing fee when he or she sells a home. This listing agent commission is usually around 6% of the sale price. The agent then shares this commission with the buyer’s agent, such that he or she will receive about 3-4% of the sale price for helping you buy a home. Some agents offer discounts on the commissions, rebates, or flat fee structures.
How can you help me buy the home I want?
Your agent should have extensive knowledge about the financing process and mortgage options available to you as a buyer. Ask the realtor about tax and insurance policies that may affect your purchase, as well as his or her specific plan for making difficult negotiations. Will your agent work hard to get you the best possible price on the home you want?
What guarantees do you offer?
If you sign a buying agreement with the agent and later realize that you are not satisfied with the arrangement, will the agent allow you to cancel it? Will the realtor stand behind his or her service to you? Does he or she have any specific buyer’s agent professional accreditations? What is his or her company’s policy concerning canceled agreements? Has any buyer ever canceled an agreement before? Do you know the six fiduciary duties you would owe to me if I hire you as my buyer’s real estate agent? They are: confidentiality; accountability; reasonable skill and care; undivided loyalty; obedience to lawful instructions, and full disclosure.
Is there anything I haven’t asked you that I should know?
Pay careful attention to the realtor’s answer to this question, as there is always something you should really know. You want to hire an agent who will take his or her time to make sure you feel comfortable and secure with her knowledge and expertise. He or she should be good at listening and counseling you, as well as asking the questions that will inform him or her of what she must know to meet your needs and help you get the best deal.